What is Dream Therapy?
Dream therapy is a type of oneirotherapy, which is an umbrella term for a number of therapeutic approaches that use imagery and symbolism. Dream analysis therapy, in particular, focuses on dream interpretation.
How Do Dreams Work?
There are four stages to our sleep during which our brain activity changes.
There are two stages of non-rapid eye movement (NREM) where you are in a light sleep as your brain and body start to slow down and fall deeper asleep.
The third stage is called your rapid-eye movement (REM) sleep stage and is characterized by the rapid movement of your eyes and is the sleep stage where your brain activity increases causing most of your dreaming to occur in this stage.
The final stage is your deep sleep stage. During a single night´s sleep, you alternate between the four sleep stages.
Dreams can act as a window into your subconscious and can reflect the stresses and mental anguish you are experiencing when awake or can be a way that your brain processes past experiences or traumas. Dreams use images or experiences already stored within your brain to create unique and symbolic scenarios. You may experience good dreams, bad dreams, lucid dreams or vivid dreams.
Lucid dreams occur when a person becomes aware that they are dreaming and can control what happens in their dream. During lucid dreaming, a person might also experience sleep paralysis and will find themselves unable to move their bodies because they are still physically asleep.
While you might forget some dreams completely or have hazy recollections of them, vivid dreams are more intense and realistic dreams that linger in your mind the same way that memories do.
How Does Dream Therapy Work?
During dream analysis therapy, you work with a mental health professional, sometimes known as a dream expert, to look for symbolism or meaning in your dreams. Since dreams often reflect stresses, worries, past experiences or traumas, dream analysis can help get to the root cause of the dreams to help a person process them in a safe and constructive way.
During therapy sessions, clinicians or dream experts ask for detailed accounts of dreams using the first person and present tense and then discuss the meaning of certain symbols and the connections they might have to your actual experiences.
They also use a technique called image rehearsal therapy (IRT), particularly for nightmares. IRT involves having you re-imagine your dream but will have you change the ending or any aspects that cause distress or discomfort.
During the therapeutic process, you might also be encouraged to keep a dream journal that you can bring to your sessions. A dream journal is something you can keep by your bed to write down the details of your dreams right when you wake up so you do not forget them and can discuss them later with your clinician.
Benefits of Dream Therapy
Not all dreams are bad or have a negative impact on our mental well-being. However, when they do, dream therapy can help reshape our dreams and reduce the negative impact they can have. This can lead to improved sleep, reduced stress or anxiety levels in daily life, and improved mental health.
Dream therapy can also facilitate trauma treatment and help people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) who have recurring nightmares.